Dundee-Crown girls basketball coach Sarah Miller led the Chargers to their first Fox Valley Conference championship since 2005 in her fourth season.
D-C went on a 10-game winning streak to force a four-way tie for the FVC title, and the team now owns the longest regional title streak among area girls basketball teams after knocking off Crystal Lake South in a Class 4A McHenry Regional final, securing the program's third regional crown in as many years.
The Chargers – who finished 19-12 – fell to a one-loss Boylan team, 47-37, in a Hampshire Sectional semifinal, but hung tough for 3 1/2 quarters against the state-ranked Titans.
For leading D-C's late-season turnaround and improbable finish, Miller has been selected as the 2017 Northwest Herald Girls Basketball Coach of the Year, as selected by the sports staff.
Miller recently spoke with sports writer Alex Kantecki about the Chargers overcoming a slow start to the season, her coaching influences, why you shouldn't tie your shoes when she's talking and more.
What is the best part about coaching?
Miller: At the varsity level, being able to be in charge of an entire program. Just seeing your ability to impact lives. I've always made it a goal in the program not to just focus on basketball. We're trying to build people and get them better prepared for when they leave high school. Probably the most rewarding thing is obviously seeing their game being built, but also seeing them grow as people. At the end of the day, that's what I think is the most important.
After a big game, do you have a favorite way to celebrate a win?
Miller: Every time we circle up in the locker room after a game, we always go around and each person says something about a teammate that they think helped bring the victory together. We always clap, and if we are home, we'll say, "Whose house? Our house!" and we would do a scream. We talk about being a family a lot, and always stress a family atmosphere. The locker room fun was great. We had a lot of team meals this year, too, to celebrate big victories as a program.
Which player on your team made you laugh the hardest?
Miller: They all crack me up, but I would probably say Paige (Gieske) and Allison (Michalski) were constantly making me laugh.
Who was an unheralded player on your team who you will remember for a long time?
Miller: I feel like since I've been there, I have a lot of players that will stick with me for a long time. Obviously, Allison being the first athlete that I've had for varsity for four years, she'll stick with me. But Lucy Atherton and Paige are also two seniors I'll remember for a long time. Paige has grown so much as a player, too, and, along with Allison, she's one of the most committed girls I've ever met in terms of wanting to grow her game. I would say the senior class, just kind of making that history and being a part of those big milestones is going to stick with me forever.
What sport that you don’t play would be good at?
Miller: I played basketball, volleyball and soccer, so maybe something like track or running. I'm kind of a little bit fast.
What three movies can you watch over and over again?
Miller: "Love & Basketball," "Coach Carter," and "Hoosiers." Any historical sports movie that shows a powerful moment.
If you had one last meal to eat, what would be included?
Miller: I would do a filet mignon and some really nice gourmet sides, maybe a potato and vegetable. Some type of five-course meal would be nice with an appetizer and dessert.
What was the biggest challenge you faced this year?
Miller: We struggled a little bit at the beginning, and I think the biggest challenge was getting this group to understand how talented and how good they can be if they just really bought into each other. I thought that was a really big challenge, and for me as a coach to find ways to really get them to trust each other and play for each other. I think that was the biggest pivotal moment in our season.
What is one of your biggest pet peeves?
Miller: Diddling with something on your wrist or tying your shoes when someone is talking or not paying full attention when someone is talking. Now they get it. They're used to it now, but Year 1, there was a little bit of that shoe tying while talking.
What’s something you would change about basketball?
Miller: I think basketball is one of those sports where to be really great at it, it takes not just physical toughness, but mental toughness. Part of me feels like the turning point is hitting the youth young. I feel like numbers overall have kind of gone down for basketball because I feel like it's one of those sports that takes a lot to be great at, and a lot of toughness. If we don't get the kids young enough, then they won't buy into that desire to do it. I would want to tackle those younger ages, which we're trying to do right now and give them the opportunity to love the game at an early age.
If you could spend a day with anyone from history, who would it be?
Miller: John Wooden because I've studied and read a lot of his books and articles, and I use his quotes almost on a daily basis. I would love to meet with him, talk the game, talk life and just hear about his experiences.
if you could have any college job, where would you go?
Miller: I'd probably want to coach in Arizona because my parents have retired there, so that would be fun. That's a dream that I possibly have for my future, but not right now.